It’s the end of my last day on Salt Spring Island, as I write this. I’m sad to leave — it’s been such a tonic to let myself be enfolded by unstructured time, a slower pace, the space to just fall into staring at the ocean. To eat a super healthy vegan wrap for lunch and fish and chips for dinner.
I’m a well known “completist.” I’m that person who rides around the block to hit a certain mileage on my bike (or literally leaves everyone else already eating chips and drinking cold beverages while I add another 14 km for an even 100). I like to add things up, like the 220 in 2020 group (I’m at 283; pandemics require deliberate movement). But even more, I like little rituals to mark meaningful transitions.
I was texting with a friend this morning lamenting that I have to go home this weekend, that my idyllic time is done. I couldn’t settle in the One Thing to do today that would make it special. As though the past three weeks haven’t been special! I’ve done some great writing, I’ve paddleboarded, I’ve eaten good food while people sing at my favourite little cafe, I’ve hiked, I’ve ridden my little bike up and down a million hills, I’ve run those same hills, I’ve had an astonishing conversation with a super unhappy 79 year old on her birthday that reminded me to enjoy my damn life, I’ve seen my cousin, I’ve eaten crab right out of the ocean and apples right off the tree, I’ve Yoga’ed and read novels and listened to audiobooks on my darling little terrace. All the things are so good — what to do to somehow make today even MORE memorable?? Quick, said my friend, what’s your favourite thing you’ve done — do that.
Hiking, I said. Hiking.
Last week, I rode my little bike up and down some hills to climb up the portentous Mt Maxwell, the highest point on the island. I had noted some nice little twisty trails around the base of the mountain, out to the edge of the sea. They seemed appealing.
I got on the little bike — again — and went to a coffee shop to pick up a wrap for lunch. I rode up some hills — again — for about 12 km. I found the trailhead at the edge of a field that probably has sheep in it sometimes.
I puzzled over the map and set off toward the delightfully named Daffodil Point.
It was an easy flattish trail — first fields in a valley between two tall looming hills, then an easy path through the woods. Small boats in the bay glimpsed through the trees, off leash dogs despite the frequent signs banning it, because of rare and fragile plants. People walking across the fields in long skirts looking like an album cover. Occasional beautifully carved signs with an image from nature with the Quw’utsun word on top and the English translation below.
Apparently these are brand new — just dedicated last week. The anglo name of the park — Burgoyne Bay — is now accompanied by the traditional name of the area — Xwaaqw’um village. These words and images are a powerful way to remind us that Canadians still share this land with Indigenous peoples, that this basin has fed people for 4000 years. I was glad to receive this gift.
I wandered for a while, enjoyed the wide and well trod trail, so different from the steep hills I’ve been climbing up, the wooded paths full of rocks and roots. I found the perfect lunch spot to eat my vegan wrap, interrupted only by the sight of two passing kayakers and a relaxed seal who came close.
After lunch was the point where I could have — should have? thought about heading back. And I realized I’m not so great at being Loose and Unstructured if I don’t know how I’m done being loose and unstructured, lol. I’m great at suuure I can be chill about a slower pace — as long as I have a destination. And on this hike with the seal and the sea and the wrap? I didn’t have a destination.
I hadn’t quite processed that yet, and feeling sluggish and full of beetroot hummus, I headed back along the inside part of the looping trail, instantly a much harder, uphill inland hike. I kept toggling between awe at the old growth trees and looking at the All Trails app to try to match up the not-obvious little paths I was seeing and the trails. I had some sort of inner Completist urging me to Do the Full Loop, do All the Little Trails. This inner voice had me back track twice, trying to match the blue GPS locator on my phone with the giant boulders, the overgrowth around me. Get a tiny bit miffed when I couldn’t find the trail that took me… nowhere, but on a loop into the woods.
I finished the Daffodil Point loop and found myself at the same point I’d started my arduous hike up Mt Maxwell. “You have to do more,” said the inner voice. Ignoring the obvious fact that I’d actually had the perfect hike — I’d walked for almost two hours! I‘d communed with a seal! I’d seen huge boulders and the glorious sea! — and I was actually sleepy after the lunch, tired from a march up the Assault Trail of Mt Erskine the day before. And I still had Leas hill to ride home.
But I hadn’t done all the trails!
And this is where my Inner Completist and my Sane Self had an actual tussle. Like, the kind of tussle that would make someone watching me from above say “what the heck is she doing?”
If you look at that map, my bike was at the point on the road where the park first starts. I’d hiked the middle part of this map, and all the parts on the top right. I was at the little nook in the bay, and instead of heading back to my bike, I thought I would do a little out to the west. And as I reached the logical looping point, I convinced myself that I could do that whoooole bit up in the top left part of the map.
Now, it was 3 pm, and I’d been hiking since 12:30, and I was feeling very satisfied and super happy and calm and centred and all those things. But for some reason, my inner completist was agitated that there were Unhiked Trails on this map..
Why not just do this big ol’ loop, Completist reasoned, it’s not that far. Look at the contour lines, my Sane voice said — there’s a lot of up and down. That’s not “3 km on the ground.” Oh, it’s nothing, said The Completist. Look how pretty? Just do the little loop! You still have to ride home! That’s a big hill you whizzed down! Loop! Stop! Loop! Go back!
Reader, the Completist won, and I headed off up the big loop. The trail was dark and overgrown, rarely walked on. I was heading straight away from the beautiful harbour in the sun, away from my bike. Just … into the woods. And straight up.
For no. reason.
I had a feeling of trepidation, a persistent voice telling me I was being silly. But I kept going. About 7 minutes into the trail, after a lot of arduous up, I looked at the trail app. The blue ball had barely moved. “This will be at least an hour,” Sane voice said. “But…. the loop!” And I headed back downhill, to circle around the tiny loop down at the bottom.
See, doesn’t that feel nice, said Sane voice? The perfect hike! Just do this extra wee loop and then back to the bike, scoot — it’s still a good 30 mins away.
And then I got to the point where the wee loop connected with the big loop, from the other side? AND I STARTED TO HEAD OFF TOWARD IT AGAIN.
It’s like my inner self is controlled by my little cat, the one Not Known for her Wisdom, as a friend put it.
Oh for pete’s sake, I said out loud. (I literally said that). YOU DO NOT NEED TO GO FURTHER INTO THE WOODS FOR NO REASON.
And reader? I listened. I completed the wee loop. I trundled back down the trail. I paused for a bit of a rest by the indigenous carvings. I read a little bit about the Coast Salish people whose land this is. I listened harder to my body and realized, yup, I am kind of tired, and my thigh itches and chafes where I was stung by a wasp the other night, and I am ready to be done. And I don’t need to do All the Loops. And that is definitely something I need to remember when I return to my non-magical life.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who will be back in Ontario in a few days, and who’s hoping to bring some of her west coast sanity with her.